Earlier this month, Apple filed suit in federal court in San Jose against its former employee, Simon Lancaster, for trade secret theft. The lawsuit alleges that Lancaster worked for Apple until November 1, 2019, as an Advanced Materials Lead and Product Design Architect, which is described as a “senior role” with the company. In this role, Apple claims Lancaster was tasked with “evaluating materials and prototyping innovations to enable future generations of products.”
Although the lawsuit does not go into specifics regarding the alleged trade secret information at issue, Apple generally argues that Lancaster divulged certain secret information to an unnamed journalist and media correspondent, who allegedly provided Lancaster with certain benefits in exchange for the information. Aside from this alleged disclosure, Apple also claimed that Lancaster may be continuing to use its information on behalf of his new employer, an unnamed Apple vendor.
This lawsuit is still in the extremely early stages. Lancaster has not yet had the chance to defend himself from the allegations, and it could be months or years before the litigation is resolved. However, the complaint filed by Apple highlights some important aspects of federal trade secret law that are important for all companies and employees dealing with confidential or trade secret information to keep in mind.
The Defend Trade Secrets Act prohibits stealing or using trade secret information belonging to another person or company. Typically, trade secret litigation involves an employee departing one company, retaining secret information they had access to at that company, and using that information on behalf of their new employer. However, the act’s protections do not stop at that type of behavior. The act also prohibits copying, transmission, replication, mailing, communicating, or conveying trade secret information without authorization. Mere unauthorized disclosure of trade secret information to a third party can be actionable under the act.
When managing a business with confidential and proprietary information, it is important to take steps to protect that information prior to any issue arising. To utilize the legal remedies in the Defend Trade Secrets Act, a company must have measures in place to attempt to keep its information secret. These measures could include password protection, limiting access to information to key personnel, and requiring all employees who may come into contact with sensitive information to sign non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. If you are concerned about the protection of your company’s information, contact an attorney with expertise in trade secret protection for advice.